Durham gang war leads to 7 being jailed for shootings

Seven key members of an organised crime gang have been jailed for a total of almost 100 years after a bitter dispute with a rival gang exploded into a weekend of violence and destruction. Detectives launched a complex and intense investigation which uncovered significant digital and forensic evidence leaving the men with no option but to admit their crimes. Operation Coastal saw a 100-strong team of officers and staff examine more than 400 hours of CCTV, analyse communication data, gather information from the community and execute a series of dawn raids on several properties. As a result, seven men were quickly charged and the following sentences were today handed out at Durham Crown Court: James Stephenson – 16 years and nine months; Wayne Griffin – 19 years and 9 months; Connor Ellison – 13 years; Jonathan Miller – 16 years and nine months; Shane Leigh – nine years; Graeme Oliver – five years and four months, and Paul Frain – 14 years.

The trouble began on Saturday, January 7, when a Mitsubishi Shogun was rammed into the front of a house in Hartlepool, which had four children sleeping inside, along with their mother. Thankfully no-one was injured. The gang also smashed up the parked car on the drive before setting fire to it and making off, leaving the blaze dangerously out-of-control. The following night, officers from Durham Constabulary were called to reports of an aggravated burglary in South Crescent, Horden. Whilst officers were making initial enquiries at the house, Graeme Oliver contacted James Stephenson, who was the leader of the gang, to tell him what had happened. Stephenson then gathered other members of the group together and they armed themselves and waited at an address in Seventh Street. Shortly after, news came into police of two shops being ramraided with a stolen Transit van, in nearby Fifth Street. It was at this point Stephenson, who owned the tanning salon and a vape shop, was captured on CCTV along with other members of his gang, piling into a second Mitsubishi Shogun in Seventh Street and speeding off. On arrival outside the shops, the occupants of the vehicle fired several shots in the direction of the van. Detectives were able to later confirm, using the angle of a bullet found in the wall of one of the shops, to have come from the Mitsubishi Shogun. Both vehicles left the scene in a pursuit and were last seen in the Haswell area and the Mitsubishi Shogun was later found burnt out. Enquiries led armed officers to a remote farm nearby where a bullet casing, including one identical to those fired in Fifth Street, was found. A bottle of accelerant dropped outside the house in Hartlepool also provided key DNA evidence. After initially denying the charges put before them and in some cases offering no comment in interviews when questioned by detectives, they admitted all the offences at Newcastle Crown Court in June. Detectives used the CCTV to create a timeline of movements and data from several digital devices, including messages on mobile phones, was used as vital evidence to piece together what had happened and who was involved. Several magistrates’ warrants were executed under the Firearms Act in the days that followed and recovered a gun, ammunition, and heroin and cocaine with a street value totalling £75k. However, the gun fired during the incident on Sunday, January 8, has never been recovered. A spent casing from the same gun fired during the ramraid was found at a farm linked to Paul Frain and matched casings found at the scene in Fifth Street. Detective Superintendent Andy Reynolds, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Coastal at Durham Constabulary, said: “Incidents like this are very rare in County Durham and Darlington. I hope this investigation sends out a clear message to criminals that we will not tolerate such extreme violence on our streets. “Durham Constabulary quickly mobilised a significant level of resources to investigate this offence and bring the offenders to justice. “Given the nature of the crimes they commit, members of organised crime gangs will do what they can to avoid facing punishment, but the overwhelming evidence gathered in this case meant they had no option but to plead guilty to all charges. “The outcome in this case is a testament to our communities who stood up and said this was completely unacceptable. I would like to thank them for their continued help and support. “I am extremely proud of all our hard work, this was a real team effort, which has ultimately brought these men to justice and made County Durham and Darlington a safer place to live.”

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